Sunday, July 21, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 168

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

Russia fires on multiple Ukrainian cities, but no change in front line: Report

Heavy rocket fire and artillery attacks hit multiple regions across Ukraine overnight, from Zaporizhzhia in the south to Kharkiv in the north.

On the southern front, Ukrainian air defenses shot down two incoming missiles near Zaporizhzhia, according to the regional military administration, and four more attacks were reported just south of the city early Wednesday.

The city of Mykolaiv came under rocket fire again Tuesday night, with three civilians injured.

“Fighting continues in settlements bordering Mykolaiv Region and Dnipropetrovsk Region. In most communities, the situation remains tense, more and more villages are on the verge of destruction,” the regional administration said.

Authorities in Kharkiv in north-eastern Ukraine reported attacks on several districts, with destruction of property but no civilian casualties.

On the main battlefield in the Donetsk region, the Ukrainian military announced several efforts by Russian troops to push forward had been resisted.

However artillery fire persisted along much of the frontline, with Avdiivka, Soledar, Bakhmut and Siversk among settlements hit by rocket, tank and artillery fire, said the military. Two civilians were reported killed in Donetsk.

The Ukrainian military also reported further attacks against Russian positions in the Kherson region, and said that “an enemy warehouse was destroyed in the Henichesk district of the Kherson region” on Tuesday.

Ukraine’s nuclear chief warns of ‘very high’ risks at occupied power plant

The head of Ukraine’s state nuclear power firm has warned of the “very high” risks of shelling at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the country’s Russian-occupied south.

Energoatom President Petro Kotin told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday that shelling at the facility last week by Russian forces had damaged three lines that connect the Zaporizhzhia plant to the Ukrainian grid and said that Russia wanted to sever the facility’s connection to Ukraine’s grid and instead link it up to the Russian one.

Some of the shelling landed near storage facilities for spent fuel, an area that has 174 containers of highly radioactive material, he added, warning of the dangers of them being hit.

“This is … the most radioactive material in all the nuclear power plant. This would [mean] the distribution [of it] around this place and then we will have like a radiation cloud and then the weather will decide … which direction the cloud goes,” Kotin continued, adding, “The risk is very high.”

Russia has denied shelling the facility and blamed strikes at the vast power station – Europe’s biggest nuclear plant – on Ukraine.

Russian control of Zaporizhzhia plant ‘endangers region’: G7

The Group of Seven industrialised nations has condemned Russia’s occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and called on Moscow to immediately hand back full control of the facility to Ukraine.

Ukrainian staff operating the plant “must be able to carry out their duties without threats or pressure. It is Russia’s continued control of the plant that endangers the region,” G7 foreign ministers announced in a joint statement.

Denmark to train Ukrainian soldiers: Report

Denmark will send military instructors to the UK to train Ukrainian soldiers and also aims to train Ukrainian officers in Denmark, the Danish defence minister has told the country’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

“Within a short time, Denmark is sending 130 military instructors to a British training project,” Morten Bodskov said in an interview published on Wednesday, adding the instructors would teach Ukrainian soldiers with zero to limited military experience how to conduct urban combat and tactical operations.

Denmark will also train Ukrainian military personnel on Danish soil, Bodskov said, noting the first step would be to educate military officers.

His comments came before a conference in Copenhagen on Thursday at which British, Danish and Ukrainian defence ministers are expected to discuss long-term support for Ukraine, including military training, mine clearance and weapon supplies.

Spain starts energy savings plan due to Russia’s “threats” to cut gas supplies

Spain set a maximum air-conditioning temperature of 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 Fahrenheit) in stores and many public indoor settings starting Wednesday, as an energy savings law took effect in light of Russia’s “threats” to interrupt natural gas supply to Western Europe.

“Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the threats of a partial or total interruption of natural gas supply from Russia to the European Union have been more frequent,” according to Spain’s official state bulletin, which published the energy savings law.

The energy savings plan aims to reduce demand for gas and oil in Spain by 5 percent in the short term, and expand the use of green energy sources, said a government statement in early August.

European Union member states, including Spain, agreed to a “voluntary reduction of natural gas demand by 15 percent this winter,” the EU announced in a statement in late July.

The air conditioning maximum of 27C applies to department stores and smaller shops, hotel lobbies, cinemas, theaters, airports, train stations and government buildings, under the law approved by Spain’s Socialist government earlier this month.

The new law takes effect as maximum temperatures in many parts of country this week are expected to be around 35C (95F), following Spain’s hottest July in over 60 years, the national weather service said.

Stores are also required to turn off their showcase window lighting at 10 p.m., when government buildings also have to shut off decorative exterior lighting.

Spanish media reported that the country’s largest department store chain turned off its showcase lights at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, just before the law took effect.

The Madrid regional government, run by the main conservative party, blasted the rules as “arbitrary and authoritarian” and unconstitutional.

It complained that the Socialist government’s law will make Madrid the only European capital to turn off its store showcase lights by 10 p.m.

The new law also requires stores with street access to have doors that can easily close, including automatically, so that they don’t remain open and waste energy while using air conditioning or heating, noted Ecological Transition Minister Teresa Ribera, adding they would have to comply by September 30.

A representative for Madrid small shop owners told Spain’s SER radio that the requirement would be costly for his sector, at an estimated 12,000 Euros ($12,290) per shop.

The new law will limit winter heating temperatures to a maximum of 19C (66.2F) in the same public spaces where the maximum of 27C air conditioning rules apply in summer. The law will be in effect until October 1, 2023, the government stated.

Crimean health ministry says 13 injured by blasts: Report

Crimea’s regional ministry of health has announced that one person was killed and at least 13 others wounded by a series of explosions on Tuesday at a Russian airbase on the annexed Black Sea peninsula, according to a report by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.

“As of 8.30am (05:30 GMT), as a result of an incident in the urban-type settlement of Novofedorivka, Saki district, 13 people were injured and one person died,” RIA Novosti quoted the ministry as saying.

Russia has said the explosions were detonations of stored ammunition, not the result of an attack. Kyiv, for its part, has suggested the blast could be down to Russian incompetence or an attack by partisans.

Ukraine sees big increase in agriculture exports in July

Ukraine’s grain, oilseed and vegetable oil exports rose 22.7 percent in July compared with June to a total of 2.66 million tonnes, according to the country’s agriculture ministry.

The increase was largely attributed to higher wheat and barley shipments, the ministry said in a statement.

It added that July’s volume of exports included 412,000 tonnes of wheat, 183,000 tonnes of barley, 1.1 million tonnes of corn, 362,100 tonnes of sunseed and tonnages of other commodities.

Russia says its forces destroyed German-made anti-aircraft system

Russia’s defence ministry announced its forces have destroyed a German-supplied Gepard anti-aircraft system in use by Ukrainian troops in the country’s southern Mykolaiv region.

In its daily briefing, the ministry also said it had shot down three Ukrainian warplanes in the area, as well as seven US-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) missiles in the neighbouring Kherson region.

There was no immediate comment from Kyiv on the claims.

Russia shelling in Dnipropetrovsk kills 13 people: Governor

Thirteen people have been killed in Russian shelling overnight in Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region, not far from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, according to a local official.

“A tragic night … in the Nikopol area the Russian army killed 11 people and injured 13,” the governor of the region, Valentyn Reznichenko, wrote on Telegram.

He added in a later post that two more people died of their injuries.

The areas are on the opposite bank of the Dnieper river to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which has been shelled several times in recent days.

The small town of Marhanets was worst hit, with 20 multi-storey buildings damaged including two schools, a dormitory and a cultural centre, Reznichenko said. Ten people were killed in the town and 11 others injured, seven of them seriously, he said.

In another village close to Nikopol city, another woman died in her home as a result of the attack and a couple was injured.

EU ban on Russian coal imports to go into effect

European Union member states will not be allowed to import any more coal from Russia after the transitional period for the bloc’s embargo ends at midnight on Wednesday.

The embargo was part of the fifth sanctions package agreed by the EU in April and will be in full force from Thursday onwards.

EU countries had agreed on a transitional period of 120 days to give the industry time to adapt to the import ban. The aim is to weaken the Russian economy amid its invasion of Ukraine.

The European Commission announced in April the coal embargo could cost Russia some $8bn annually.

UK says Russia establishes new ground forces formation to support Ukraine operation

Russia has “almost certainly” established a major new ground forces formation to support its operations in Ukraine, the UK defence ministry has announced.

This unit, called the 3rd Army Corps, is based out of the city of Mulino, east of Russia’s capital Moscow, the ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin on Twitter.

The update also added that Russian commanders were “highly likely” to continue to face “competing operational priorities” of reinforcing Moscow’s offensive in the eastern Donbas region while moving to strengthen its defence against Ukrainian counterattacks in south.

War against Ukraine “must end with Crimea”: Zelensky

Russia’s war against Ukraine began with Crimea and “must end with Crimea” and the liberation of the peninsula, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

“This Russian war against Ukraine and against all of free Europe began with Crimea and must end with Crimea — its liberation,” Zelensky stated in his nightly address.

“Today it is impossible to say when this will happen. But we are constantly adding the necessary components to the formula for the liberation of Crimea,” he added.

“(…) Crimea is Ukrainian, and we will never give it up,” he said, adding the Russian occupation of Crimea constitutes a “threat” to the entire continent and global stability.

“The presence of Russian occupiers in Crimea is a threat to the entire Europe and to global stability. (…) There will be no stable and lasting peace in many countries on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea as long as Russia is able to use our peninsula as its military base,” Zelensky continued.

The Ukrainian president went on to recall the historical significance of the peninsula for Ukrainians, noting, “Our state is home to peoples whose national cultures and aspirations were formed in Crimea. Therefore, when we work for the liberation of the peninsula, we are fighting for the restoration of the territorial integrity of our state, and for the return of home to the indigenous peoples of Ukraine.”

On Tuesday, a series of explosions were reported in the area of a Russian air base in Crimea. There has been no word from the Ukrainian side about any attack in the area. Ukraine is not known to have struck the territory of Crimea since the Russian invasion began.

US to provide $89m for Ukraine demining

The United States has announced that it would provide $89m to Ukraine for removing land mines put in place by Russian forces.

The money will support 100 demining teams as well as the training and equipping of more Ukrainian personnel to undertake the risky work across the estimated 16 million hectares (39.5 acres) of territory that Kyiv says has been mined by the Russians.

“Russia’s unlawful and unprovoked further invasion of Ukraine has littered massive swaths of the country with landmines, unexploded ordnance, and improvised explosive devices,” the US Department of State stated.

Macron and Johnson reaffirm their support for Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have reaffirmed their commitment to support Ukraine against Russia as long as necessary, according to the French presidential palace.

Johnson and Macron spoke on the phone to discuss bilateral ties and regional issues.

Biden formally approves NATO accession for Finland and Sweden

US President Joe Biden has signed the ratification documents to accept Sweden and Finland into NATO, bringing the northern European countries closer to becoming members of the alliance.

Biden said the US was the 23rd country to formally approve the countries’ membership bids. The US Senate had overwhelmingly backed expanding NATO to include Finland and Sweden in a 95-1 vote last week.

All 30 NATO allies are expected to accept their applications.

The two countries began seeking NATO membership after the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.

“Putin thought he could break us apart … weaken our resolve. Instead, he’s getting exactly what he did not want. He wanted the Finlandisation of NATO, but he’s getting the NATOisation of Finland along with Sweden,” Biden added.

Ukrainian official warns of ‘very high’ risks at occupied power plant

The head of Ukraine’s state nuclear power firm has warned of the “very high” risks of shelling at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the Russian-occupied south and said it was vital Kyiv regains control over the facility in time for winter.

Energoatom’s chief, Petro Kotin, told the Reuters news agency that last week’s Russian shelling had damaged three lines that connect the Zaporizhzhia plant to the Ukrainian grid and that Russia wanted to connect the facility to its grid.

Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling the site of the vast nuclear power station – Europe’s biggest – that lies in Russian-controlled territory.

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